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CINDERELLA MAN – Thomas Newman

cinderellamanOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

Cinderella Man is a wonderful example of everything that is great and everything that is so frustrating about Thomas Newman’s music. As he has proved in the past through scores such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Meet Joe Black and others, there are few finer composers than Newman when it comes to delivering a big emotional pay-off. The problem is that he does it so rarely that, with each new score, you are never sure whether the right buttons are going to be pressed the first time you slip the CD into the player. Tedious scores such as White Oleander, The Salton Sea and In the Bedroom showed plenty of innovation, but very little “enjoyment”, despite having the potential to sit atop his impressive filmography. Fortunately Cinderella Man falls in the camp of the former scores, although it does lack the thematic beauty and emotional impact of some of his better-known works.

The latest film from director Ron Howard, Cinderella Man tells the highly subjective life story of the legendary American boxer Jim Braddock who, as a promising light-heavyweight fighter in the late 1920s, looked to have the world at his feet. However, as the country suffered toil and hardship through the great depression, so did Braddock, as his fights became less about points and rounds and more about providing food and shelter for his family. When things looked their bleakest, Braddock became a true “rags to riches” fairytale when he unexpectedly emerged to become a genuine contender for the heavyweight championship of the world almost a decade later. Russell Crowe stars as the streetwise scrapper Braddock, Renee Zellweger features as his devoted wife Mae, Craig Bierko plays his most feared opponent, the vicious and intimidating Max Baer, and there are supporting turns from such acclaimed performers as Paddy Considine, Bruce McGill and Paul Giamatti.

In many ways, Cinderella Man is a very typical Thomas Newman score. The familiar, but evocative combination of smooth, almost ethereal string-and-piano blesses the first cue “Inside Out”, and is recapitulated in later cues such as the lovely “Mae”, the sadly short “Shoe Polish”, and the moving “Bulldog of Bergen”. Other cues, such as “Change of Fortune” and “Cold Meat Party”, feature some of Newman’s unusual, but effective dissonant textures – all breathy flutes, rumbling percussion and sound design. The dirge-like “Hooverville Funeral” even threatens to break out into a mournful performance of the funeral march at any moment, before finally emerging into something more noble and hopeful.

There is a definite Irish tinge to cues such as the action packed “Corn Griffin”, the gregarious “The Hope of the Irish”, and the rhythmic “Pugilism”, during which the orchestra picks up the tumultuous thrum of a bodhran drum and various other rattling percussion elements to reflect Braddock’s Gaelic roots. Similarly, the superb “Weehawken Ferry” is wonderfully dramatic echo of The Shawshank Redemption, mimicking that classic score’s see-sawing string work and throaty bass passacaglia, albeit with the addition of a tinkling cimbalom and a Celtic twinge this time round.

Unfortunately, Cinderella Man also suffers from all the usual problems which plague Thomas Newman albums: cues which, for the most part, are too short to allow for any real thematic development, and the thoughtless programming of a number of 1920s Depression-era classic standards by big bands and balladeers such as Miff Mole and Eddie Cantor. I certainly could have done without a track devoted solely to Paul Giamatti whistling. In addition, several tracks are also overlaid with sound effects and dialogue from the movie (crowds cheering and the like) which, while retaining faithfulness to the context of the music in the film, nevertheless slightly spoils the overall listening experience.

However, the score’s saving grace, yet again, is the finale. As was the case in Shawshank, Meet Joe Black, The Green Mile, and several others, Newman unleashes all his emotional high points during “Big Right”, “9, 4, 2, Even” and “Cinderella Man”, a trio of cues which swell with triumphant, brass-led performances of the previously subdued main theme. Stirring strings enter the fray at several key points, embellished by timpani rolls, cymbal clashes, and all the other good stuff which make spines tingle and goose-bumps emerge.

Anyone who enjoyed any of the aforementioned scores will certainly find a great deal of enjoyable music in Cinderella Man; it’s just that you get the feeling that Newman could write this kind of thing standing on his head. Considering how much of an innovator he has been throughout his career, it’s actually quite surprising to find him writing something so comparatively straightforward and conventional. Nevertheless, despite the lack of innovation, variations on the familiar lush Newman sound are always welcome, and Cinderella Man is no different.

Rating: ***½

Track Listing:

  • Inside Out (1:20)
  • Shim-Me-Sha-Wobble (written by Spencer Williams, performed by Miff Mole and his Molers) (1:03)
  • Mae (1:16)
  • Change of Fortune (1:15)
  • Weehawken Ferry (2:43)
  • Cold Meat Party (0:40)
  • All Prayed Out (2:38)
  • Tillie’s Downtown Now (written by Bud Freeman, performed by Bud Freeman and his Windy City Five) (2:19)
  • Three Bucks Twenty (1:01)
  • Corn Griffin (1:12)
  • Shoe Polish (0:48)
  • Londonderry Air (written by George Petrie and Jane Ross, performed by Paul Giamatti) (0:27)
  • Hope of the Irish (0:52)
  • Hooverville Funeral (2:54)
  • Fight Day (3:39)
  • Good as Murder (0:51)
  • We’ve Got to Put That Sun Back in the Sky (written by Andreas Meyer, performed by Roane’s Pennsylvanians) (1:27)
  • No Contest (1:08)
  • Pugilism (1:06)
  • Bulldog of Bergen (1:42)
  • Big Right (2:50)
  • 9, 4, 2, Even (1:27)
  • Cinderella Man (4:48)
  • Turtle (3:21)
  • Cheer Up! Smile! Nertz! (written by Misha Portnoff, Wesley Portnoff and Norman Anthony, performed by Eddie Cantor) (4:02)

Running Time: 47 minutes 01 seconds

Decca/Universal B0004561-02 (2005)

Music composed and conducted by Thomas Newman. Orchestrations by Thomas Pasatieri. Recorded and mixed by Armin Steiner and Tommy Vicari. Edited by Bill Bernstein. Album produced by Thomas Newman and Bill Bernstein.

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